North America Refining News
Richmond Panel Recommends OK of Refinery Retrofit
by Mike Taugher Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.
February 04, 2008
A Richmond, Calif., city panel that normally deals with lighting, screening and other aesthetic considerations recommended approval of a retrofit at the Chevron refinery there but attached a laundry list of conditions.
Members of the Design Review Board criticized Chevron during a nearly five-hour, standing-room-only hearing Thursday night, but they decided they could influence the project more effectively by attaching nonbinding conditions than they could by recommending denial.
The project now goes to the Richmond Planning Commission, which can approve or reject the project. That decision can be appealed to the City Council.
After listening to a parade of speakers complain about pollution and odors from the refinery, several Design Review Board members appeared to be searching for a way to impose design restrictions that would reduce air pollution.
"There isn't any part of the design that doesn't affect public safety," Don Woodrow said.
"You folks are the biggest game in town, so it's not a big jump" to blame the refinery for air-quality problems, he said. "I'd like that to stop."
The conditions attached by the board, which can be accepted or rejected by the Planning Commission, include tree planting, accommodating the Bay Trail through refinery property, studying earthquake hazards, painting tank domes and forming a committee to explore community complaints and assess alternative energy sources for incorporation at the refinery, among others.
Board member Ted Smith, a lifelong Richmond resident, complained bitterly that Chevron had abandoned old ties to nonprofit boards and other community organizations.
"All you do is take out of this community," he said.
"I used to be on your side. Look at your staff. There's nobody that looks like me," said Smith, who is black. "That didn't used to be the case."
Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer told the design board that in light of Chevron's current appeal to reduce its property tax bill, the board should not take seriously the company's claim, in promotional materials, that the project would inject cash into the local economy.
"As soon as they get it finalized, they're going to appeal and say we were just replacing stuff," Kramer said. "I don't want you to think Richmond is going to get this windfall of millions to provide these services you so desperately need."
Chevron spokesman Dean O'Hair said Kramer was comparing apples to oranges -- the property taxes the company is appealing to the payroll and sales taxes and jobs the project will increase.
Earlier, O'Hair said the project is the latest refinery improvement intended to reduce pollution.
"This project takes us in the same direction by reducing emissions," he said.
Chevron wants to replace some facilities at the refinery and improve its ability to purify hydrogen in order to accommodate crude oil with higher sulfur content. The company says the project will not increase the amount of crude it processes, but the refinery will be able to make more gasoline that meets California's clear-air specifications.
A representative of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District told the design board that final estimates of the project's effect on air quality are still being negotiated between the company and regulators.
Chevron has said the overall effect of the project will be to reduce emissions, and that if there is an increase in emissions of a particular kind of pollution it will not be significant. The air district has scheduled a Feb. 13 meeting to discuss the project's effects on air quality.
In addition to approval from the city, Chevron also must obtain permits from the air district and the California Energy Commission.
Copyright (c) 2008, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.